No Non-Comm Presence in Webcast Royalty Negotiations

September 1, 2002


Educational and Community stations are being left out in theCold!


H.R. 5496 was tee'd up for a vote [on Oct. 1, 2002]. The bill was simple: provide webcasters a si- month stay of the royalty fees so that stations could have their day in court. This bill would allow all stations a six month stay of the rates, but was proposed as a means to protect small business.

The RIAA rallied the troops, calling upon all the artists unions and associations (AFTRA, AFM, RAC, etc.) the RIAA opposed the bill. The problem is that the RIAA is afraid that the courts will find that the decision of the Librarian of Congress determination on rates will not stand scrutiny.

Thus, the unions were called in. The unions made enough noise on the hill to call into question the passage of H.R. 5496, which was sponsored by James Sensenbrenner. Sensenbrenner, afraid of defeat, pulled the bill and told webcasters to come back to him with a negotiated settlement, by Friday [Oct. 4]. This settlement would become law.

The problem with this, is multifaceted. First, the pressure is being put on commercial webcasters to negotiate a deal, while no equal pressure is placed on the RIAA. Next, college and community broadcasters are left out. Plain and simple, they have not even been placed on the same playing field as commercial entities, which are at best on an uneven playing field.

This is a complicated issue. That is another important part of the "game" being played right now. Many on the hill don't know what Internet radio is and how it differs from file sharing. All the RIAA has to do is tell Congress that webradio is stealing from artists and the hill agrees, because they don't want to be seen as anti-artist or anti-union, particulary when the union agrees with big business, the RIAA. Who is left of a casualty of the crossfire, the stations that offer diversity, alternatives and an education. Big business wins again.

So, even if there is a deal struck, under duress, by the commercial webcasters, who is left hanging in the wind? The stations with the smallest resources, college and educational stations, as the "deal" sought by Congress places no burdens on the RIAA and does not specifically include a provision for Educational and Community stations.

College stations do not oppose paying a royalty fee, if a court decides that one must be paid. College stations do not want to hurt artists, rather they want to continue to promote artists and pay a reasonable, fixed fee, like they currently do for composers.

Even the RIAA has agreed to a fixed fee structure in their privately negotiated deal with NPR stations, yet they oppose one with stations with far less resources. Why has this fact been ignored by Congress and, more importantly by the Copyright Office, which was instructed by Congress to consider all negotiated agreements?

It is plain and clear, the educational opportunities of this country come a distant second to profit. This is a short sighted solution to a complicated problem that needs to be addressed. Congress must mandate that Educational and Community stations be involved in the negotiations or alternately be offered the same opportunities as the CPB/NRP.

Will Robedee
http://www.rice.edu/cb/sos



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